OMG: Straights are Taking Over Gay Cedar Springs
Straights are taking over Dallas’ predominantly gay enclave.Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s a little before 1 on a wednesday afternoon, and most customers at JR’s Bar & Grill on Cedar Springs aren’t ordering from the grill. TV screens play dance videos and at the bar ashtrays line up in parade formation. A man named Chris orders a Bushmills, neat. He’s an older guy, trim, tailored. He has called Oak Lawn his home for more than a decade. And no—sigh, eye roll—he’s not too happy about the ilume, the huge new retail and residential project going up on the corner of Cedar Springs and Douglas.
“It’s going to bring”—beat—“people like you,” he says, with a laugh and a slap to let me know it’s nothing personal. “Suburbanites. Straight people. There goes the gayborhood.”
Chris and a handful of older gay Cedar Springs loyalists aren’t happy about the ilume—and not just because the development eschews capitalization. Their concern is simple: is Cedar Springs about to become less gay? The answer—well, sure—won’t make them happy. But the more interesting question is, with more straights coming to Cedar Springs—to have a drink, to rent an apartment—what happens next?
Historically, whether you’re talking about Dallas or New York or Chicago or even San Francisco, a pattern has developed with gay neighborhoods. Gays and lesbians create an entertainment and/or residential enclave so they have a place to call their own. The gentrification draws hip straight people and money. Rents and real estate values increase. Crowded out, gays and lesbians migrate to another area, fix it up, then get displaced. Which leads to complaints from folks like Chris.
“Whineybags,” says Nancy Weinberger, a mainstay in the Perry Heights neighborhood and a member of the Oak Lawn Committee. “I understand not being thrilled about the additional traffic, but that’s progress, honey. And the developer has really tried to be sensitive to all the neighborhoods around. We can’t keep it like it’s 1950.”
The neighborhood grew up along the original streetcar line that ran down Cedar Springs, with the historic Melrose Hotel at the south end and Douglas Avenue toward the north. It’s been a haven for gays going back at least to the 1970s. Today, strolling down Cedar Springs on a weekday afternoon, it’s not hard to fathom why a developer would want to make Dallas’ oldest gay neighborhood even bigger. If not necessarily gayer.
Demographically speaking, gays and lesbians are attractive. Compared to straight people of the same age, on average, they have deeper pockets, higher education levels, and more free time. Despite the recession, merchants along Cedar Springs report that sales are up significantly in the past year. A perusal of alcohol sales tax receipts for some of the main anchor bar and restaurants along Cedar Springs—JR’s, The Bronx, and Black-eyed Pea—show steady performance or solid gains in alcohol sales through 2008.
Those demographics and sales numbers are what interested Luke Crosland, head of The Crosland Group, and why he’s putting all his 20-year-old company’s effort into the lavish, five-story ilume development. Crosland is a burley, fastidious, dapper man with perfect hair and a taste for fine wines. He believes a project in a gay enclave like Cedar Springs wouldn’t work without local support. So when the Tom Thumb on Douglas was demolished in 2007, he bought that property and the adjacent Catalina Townhouses.
Crosland hired Travis Terry, a Colorado designer, to fine tune his working design for the project. The original clean lines, evocative of classic 1940s style, are now meshed with modern landscaping and outdoor amenities in the living spaces like outdoor kitchens, large cabanas, and several grill pits surrounding the pool in the courtyard and its hot tubs. And the materials—stucco, steel, arca stone, and Texas limestone—make it feel both contemporary and urban. All for a reasonable average of $1,300 a month.
On the ground floor, ilume will have 23,000 square feet of retail space. Above that sit 316 apartment units. The retail portion and the Cedar Springs-facing residential section—76 units—should be open by summer. Retail tenants signed to date include Dish, a “modern-day supper club” from the same man who conceived Hotel ZaZa’s Dragonfly; Red Mango, the latest competitor in the resurgent frozen yogurt trend; and the perfectly named Beyond the Box, an organic, high-end concept that feels like a hybrid of Eatzi’s and a 7-Eleven.
Terry, the Colorado designer, says, “This is a design that takes the best of the neighborhood.” He maintains that the ilume’s aesthetic is gay-friendly but will transcend demographic boundaries.
Crosland isn’t done listening to neighborhood concerns, though. He and his vice president, Mick Rossley, attend every meeting of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association. They continue to meet regularly with Oak Lawn leaders like Gregg Kilhoffer, the godfather of Cedar Springs gay bars and president of Caven Enterprises, and Michael Milliken, president of the Oak Lawn Committee. Kilhoffer and the committee have given ilume their blessing. Crosland and his team even hang out at the restaurants and bars along Cedar Springs to gather street-level intel. “If we don’t have the neighborhood’s support,” Crosland says, “it doesn’t matter how perfect we make this.”
Weinberger says she’s already starting to see an evolution in her own Perry Heights neighborhood. Blocks once almost exclusively gay or lesbian are being peppered with professional, straight, married people. Kids have started playing in the yards.
Scott Whittall, co-owner of the Buli Cafe, Bakery & Bistro and president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, says he’s seen the gay-to-straight cycle time and again. But this time around, he doesn’t expect it to continue. For him, the “Will Cedar Springs lose its gay identity?” question misses the point. That is: more and more, younger gays and younger straights don’t care about their neighbor’s sexuality.
“Up and down the street, we have younger employees who are straight who have gay friends, and we see customers of all stripes,” he says over a turkey panini that his restaurant serves in kitschy, cool metal lunch boxes. (I got Spider-Man instead of High School Musical, so I’m happy.)
“You go out on Knox-Henderson—we keep up with the competition, and they are it—and you’re just as likely to see two men or two women holding hands, and no one gives them a second look,” Whittall says. “I don’t think you’re going to see here the gay community moving around like it did in New York, from the lower Village to the upper Village and all around and back. I think it’s like gay marriage. In 20 years, people will wonder what the fuss was all about in the first place.”
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